Copenhagen’s Message to the World, “Saddle Up and Ride!”

Everyone seems to bike in Copenhagen. Photo by Kasper Thye

There are five and a half million people in Denmark – one quarter of them live in the  Copenhagen metropolitan area. But their small numbers belie the important message they have for the world.  “Save the environment, one person-propelled trip at a time.”

Not since I visited China’s Guangzhou province in 1984 have I seen a city embrace the bike as essential transport as Copenhagen has. This is not to suggest Copenhagen is alone in encouraging the bike over the car, the Netherlands,Tokyo, Victoria, British Columbia, and other areas have healthy cycling infrastructures, too. (I recommend On Our Own Two Wheels a ’round the world exploration of fine places to ride. ) Still, the Danes clearly know something about how to encourage human-powered transportation.

So when other urban areas look for examples of how to do it right, the place they turn to is Copenhagen and the word they use is Copenhagenizing.

Obediently stopped for a red light in downtown Copenhagen

Fresh from a weekend in the city, having been there and done that, I now understand why.

I’ll admit I was dismissive when Visit Denmark’s Christina Heinze Johansson gave me that earnest look and warned me that biking here “would be different.”

She was worried. How would she ever explain it to her bosses if she got an American journalist killed riding a bike on her watch? I nodded and let most of the dire warnings go in one ear and out the other, Alfred E. Newman style, “What, me worry?”

At home, I bike daily, usually for an hour or more. But, OH, Christina, I should have listened. You were right and I was wrong.

The issue  wasn’t riding ability or endurance, it was recognizing that what hobbyists think of as mindless activity, is serious business in a town where the ratio of bikes to Copenhageners is 2:1. There are rules. There is etiquette. There are signs to heed, signals to know, crosswalks to mind. After spending two hours touring Copenhagen by dusk  I was exhausted. And I don’t mean physically. I mean mentally.

Copenhageners out to do their Saturday errands.

Riding in Copenhagen is equal to driving anyplace else. The bike paths – specially designated lanes on the street but elevated and protected from the auto lane by a curb – are as congested with bikes as the streets are with cars. And these bicycles have some girth. Parents carry young children in barrel-sized buckets attached to the front. Deliveries are made from platform-equipped bikes. One afternoon I saw a biker toting a love seat.

Yes, that is a sofa, and yes, he is carrying it on his bike.

As one would expect in this city, there is an abundance of bike shops. Early one morning, I visited Søren Sögreni the “Tiffany” of bike shops where the proprietor proudly showed me one of the 14 limited edition bikes designed for silversmith Georg Jensen. It has a silver bell and a burnished leather seat. This moveable work of art sells for US $3200.

The Georg Jensen bike.

And while craftsmanship has its price, creativity knows no boundaries, as evidenced by the fur covered bike resting outside of Søren’s shop. Bike with a horn? You’d get attention using these horns!

Leave your bike and board the train.

What I especially liked about Copenhagen was how the use of bikes is accommodated in ways large and small. There are parking lots and bike storage rooms at the public transportation stations and there are special bike cars on the trains.  At the microbrewery and restaurant, Norrebro Bryghus I noticed bike helmets hanging on the pegs along with the coats.

Biking is beautiful, (and so is he!) Photo by Kasper Thye

During the warm-weather months, visitors can borrow a City Bike at any one of a number of coin-operated kiosks. The 20 kroner coin is a deposit, returned when the bike is re-deposited at any other kiosk in town. In November when I visited, City Bike was closed up for the season, but the proprietress of Ibsens Hotel happily loaned me a bike from the small fleet of very well-cared for bikes she keeps on hand for her guests’ use.

Copenhagen has ambitions to increase the number of two-wheeled-commuters to 50% by 2015 and I hope they achieve it. Even more, I h0pe their progress sends a message far beyond Denmark and encourages the rest of the world to adopt pedal power, the ever-renewable-energy source.

 

9 Comments

  1. Posted on December 2, 2011 at 11:31 am by Johanna Bradley

    Oh dear, I’m letting the side down badly here. I’m just about coordinated enough to walk, and fell over Nordic walking yesterday so biking’s not my thing. Enjoyed your article though- made me smile. I’m not too bad with 3-wheelers.

  2. Posted on December 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm by Lurline Hodnett

    Thanks for sharing Christine. It sounds like you had a great trip. Anytime you can spend time riding a bike abroad is a great cultural experience.

  3. Posted on December 3, 2011 at 4:23 pm by Mark Thompson

    What an illuminating post about an enlightened culture. Having shared your experience in Copenhagen, I can only add that bicycling is possibly one good reason why so many Danes are physically stunning with what some people refer to as “yoga butt.” Here’s to Copenhagen!

  4. Posted on December 4, 2011 at 1:02 am by Sunita Braganza

    Enjoyed reading your article. Very informative! Glad you had a successful bike trip. I’m not into biking but reading your article brought back memories of my trip to Copenhagen.

  5. Posted on July 5, 2012 at 8:44 pm by Pola (@jettingaround)

    That picture of the bike + love seat… priceless! It seems to me that Copenhagen respects the bike and biking culture – very interesting to read. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Posted on July 13, 2012 at 11:19 am by Go How » Sisterhood of the Traveler’s Pants – What Makes a Great Pair?

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  7. Posted on October 10, 2012 at 11:35 am by Dan @ Copenhagen airport

    Nothing better than cycling around Copenhagen, a great set of images from the city.

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